Why Your Nonprofit Needs to Get Political — Now
There is little doubt that Trump’s presidency has been unwelcome news for most of the nonprofit sector.
With promises to abolish the Johnson Amendment(a horrible, terrible idea), along with angry rhetoric that demeans many of the populations nonprofits serve and protect, the man and his ideals are disastrous — not just for the country, but for the third sector as a whole.
With today’s public roll out of Trumps’ budget proposal, the implications for our sector are important and very dire.
We need to not only pay attention to this budget for our own knowledge, we also need to bring these issues to the attention of our supporters and our constituents.
We need to start talking — LOUDLY — about what these cuts will mean to our programs, our missions, and the people and communities we have pledged to serve.
What do we stand for as an organization? What do we want to preserve and protect? Is our mission to speak for those who do not have voices?
These questions require answers, if nonprofits are to be held up to the high standards that our community members set for us — accountability and transparency.
Now, I’m not saying tweet out “The Trump budget stinks and he has tiny hands” or something as general as that. (Although that is tempting.)
Examine today’s budget proposal. Determine what it means not just for your mission, but the missions of your partners. Budgets, after all, are the true barometer of what we prioritize. If it’s not in the budget, it’s not a priority, it’s not important. End of story.
If you suspect that your organization is going to be ill-affected if this budget, or some version of it, passes, craft a response.
Not necessarily an angry response (although a little anger and emotion is always good to catch attention), but more importantly, a well thought-out statement that will inform and educate your supporters on what is happening and why they should be worried.
But Wait — Isn’t That Lobbying?
No. You are not getting off that easy.
There is a BIG difference between lobbying — actively encouraging people to vote for a candidate or piece of legislation — and providing information around public policy issues.
In fact, here is the full text from the IRS website:
In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.
Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.
An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.
Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.
See that? Not only can you involve yourself in issues of public policy by way of creating educational materials — I feel strongly that YOU ARE OBLIGATED TO DO SO.
Why Us, Why Now?
You work incredibly hard to accomplish your mission. Putting out fires every day, submitting grant proposals, attending board meetings, making phone calls.
You help save lives, you assist people, maybe you work with animals, maybe you preserve natural spaces or historic buildings. There is a REASON for your work — there is a NEED.
But along with that important, day-to-day work, along with providing programs and services, you are an authority in your space.
You are, or at least, you should be, a trusted expert on the issue.
Your email subscribers, your donors, your staff, your volunteers — they look to you for information. They want you to cut through the fake news, the alternative facts, the bluster, and the rhetoric.
They are counting on you to get the facts straight and to tell them what to do. What do we worry about? Should we worry? What can we do to help? What is going on right now?
It’s time that even the smallest of nonprofit organizations steps up to the plate and gets political.
So, What’s the Bottom Line?
If you want to find out what’s on the line in this budget proposal, the New York Times has a chart here — Who Wins and Loses.
What’s on the chopping block? Not surprisingly, the arts, public television, humanities, environmental services, human services, community organizing, violence against women programs, and much, much, much more.
And the programs that are allocated for huge cuts are not just ones that the “East Coast elites” will be in an uproar about. There are cuts to programs serving rural American, grants to coal miners’ families, and even more.
It’s Time for the Sector to Step Up
I meet with nonprofit staff and volunteers every single day. These are hard-working, passionate people, working for hardly any financial compensation, let alone acknowledgement or gratitude.
When the American people voted in Donald J. Trump as their president, they were sending a clear message to the federal and state governments — do more with less. In fact, keep doing more, with less, every year until there is nothing left.
Too many people assume that “the government will take care of it” or “someone else will deal with this mess”. A lot of the general public does not understand the work that you do — that the sector does — every single day!
With more people seeking services than ever before, this budget proposal is disastrous. Find your issue and your cause in the proposal — I assure you, unless you are working with the military or police, your organization will suffer some kind of cut.
People need to know the effect this will have on their community and the programs that they support, with their time and their money. Let them know. They will thank you, and hopefully, do the lobbying for you.